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Lifesaving efforts praised, but how will Mexico pull it off?

May 18, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — While local agencies and the Mexican consulate support in theory the Mexican government's plan to hand out 200,000 survival kits to immigrants planning to illegally enter the U.S., they are unsure of how Mexico is going to pull it off.

"I think it could be a good idea but I don't know how it would be possible," said the Mexican regional counsel based in Calexico, Rita Vargas Torregrosa.

She said immigrants interested in crossing the border usually do everything they can to not be identified.

Vargas found out about the Mexican government's plan when U.S. agencies did Wednesday.

She said the 45 Mexican consulates in the U.S. have not been informed of the details of the program.

"When we get more information we'll be happy to pass it on," Vargas said Friday.

According to a story Thursday by the Copley News Service, Juan Hernandez, a coordinator in the Office for Mexicans Abroad, announced the plan at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

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Hernandez said he expects the plan to be controversial. He said the kits might be viewed as an incentive or aid for illegal border crossings, but he declared the needs of the Mexican citizenry are more important than possible criticism.

The program could be a bi-national effort if American foundations pony up for the cause, according to an Orange County Register story.

The kits will be presented to 369 of the poorest migrant-sending municipalities in 17 states in Mexico on June 15, according to Angel Flores, chief of community action for the Mexican Institute of Social Security. Flores was quoted in the Copley story.

That's news to the Mexican consulates.

"We don't know anything about that," Vargas said.

She said she's going to call Mexico City and will be able to answer questions soon.

"That's baloney," said Barbara Coe of Huntington Beach. Coe is chairwoman of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform.

She said Mexican consulates had to be notified about the program because they are supposed to be told about new directions given by the federal government.

She added: the consulates and the U.S. Border Patrol are not admitting they knew or participated in the creation of the kit program to deflect possible criticism from themselves.

"I read about the program when everyone else did," said Border Patrol El Centro sector public information officer Arturo Sandoval.

The Border Patrol's reaction?

"Basically our message is: It is good that the Mexican government is addressing the deaths, but we also wish they would target the smugglers that are putting the people in these situations."

He said the main mission of the Office for Mexicans Abroad is trying to do something about the deaths.

"Our main mission is to apprehend people," Sandoval said.

He added the survival kits, if they are actually handed out, would augment the 1998 Border Patrol border safety initiative in which agents were provided with medical supplies

"We carry all of the medical equipment already," Sandoval said.

Sandoval threw out some statistics from the past three years.

In 1999 63 people died in the Imperial Valley deserts. In 2000, 77 died and in 2001, 38 have died so far.

Congressman Duncan Hunter's spokesman, Michael Harrison, said he has not yet talked to Hunter concerning the Mexican government's action.

Hunter is taking care of a death in his family.

Harrison did add that Hunter supports lifesaving efforts on the U.S. side of the border such as water jugs in the desert, a program started by his brother John.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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